Running from Southease to Brighton, this route takes in an impressive selection of Living Coast habitats including the River Ouse floodplains, the chalk downlands, the white coastal cliffs, chalk tidal pools and vegetated shingle. Not to mention the buzzing urban environment of the Brighton seafront.
A challenging climb up the Downs is followed by a long descent with magnificent views along the coast, then a flat easy ride along the Undercliff Walk and the Brighton promenade into the centre of the city.
You can take bikes on trains except during peak hours. Normally only a few are allowed on any one train. At Saltdean the ride links with National Cycle Network route 90. There is very limited parking at Southease near the youth hostel.
This ride is primarily on hard surfaces, tracks and roads with a short section on the gravel and grass of the South Downs. The early part of the ride from Southease follows The Egrets Way beside the River Ouse before following a mainly paved road up onto the South Downs. PLEASE BE CAREFUL CROSSING THE C7 Lewes to Newhaven road.
Dropping down from the hills into Saltdean there will be some traffic in the residential area and be aware that the busy A259 is at the foot of the hill. You must cross under it to join the Undercliff and National Bike Route number 2. It can get busy along the rest of the ride and into Brighton, and you need to dismount at a couple of points.
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Your starting point at Southease station is at the southern end of Lewes Brooks, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) encompassing 330 hectares of the River Ouse floodplain south of Lewes. It provides valuable habitats to a range of wildlife, including rare amphibians, beetles and water birds. In fact, it is the only known site for the rare Lewes water beetle.
The cycle path beside the River Ouse is part of The Egrets Way, named after the Little Egret which can often be seen in this area.
Nearing the top of Telscombe Hill you cross into Telscombe Tye, a stretch of common running from Telescombe village down to Telscombe Cliffs. It is one of the few places where the Downs landscape meets the sea and is a fine example of chalk grassland habitat. Nationally important Bronze Age earthworks lies within its boundaries, including bowl barrows – burial mounds dating from 3,000 years ago.
Chalk grassland on the South Downs is a big part of what makes this area so special and is the result of thousands of years of sheep grazing the landscape. It is Western Europe’s equivalent to the tropical rainforest, as it’s incredibly rich and diverse in plant and insect life. There are many species here that cannot be found anywhere else, including many orchids, wildflowers and rare butterflies, such as the Adonis Blue.
Descending through Saltdean you arrive at the white chalk cliffs of the Undercliff which are a nationally important geological site and hold a record of the past ice ages and hidden fossils. On the beach, you can visit the rock pools at low tide when the chalk reef of the Marine Conservation Zone is exposed and where you can find crabs, sea anemones and mussels.
Further along the Undercliff is Brighton Marina which acts as a coastal lagoon environment for marine wildlife (including the rare short-snouted seahorse) as well as birds. You will also see the 116 turbines of the Rampion Offshore Wind Farm which is named after the Round-headed Rampion, the county flower of Sussex.
Arriving at Black Rock, once the site of an Art Deco lido, you can see some natural vegetated shingle which is one of the rarest habitats in the UK. Here specialised plants have adapted to survive the harsh conditions that exist on the beach – lack of fresh water and exposure to wind and waves.
The Volks Railway, built in 1883 and now world’s oldest operating electric railway, runs along the seafront from Black Rock to Brighton Pier. You will need to keep cycling though as it doesn’t take bikes!
You are now heading into Brighton along Madeira Drive. Looking to your right you will see a green wall which was planted by the Victorians in the 1870s to improve the seafront environment. It is now home to over 100 species of plants and is the UK’s oldest and longest ‘green wall’.
Ahead of you is Brighton Palace Pier which dates back to 1899, and beyond it the skeleton of the West Pier which was designed by Eugenius Birch and opened in 1866. It was the first pier to be Grade I listed in Britain.
As you head up towards Brighton station, you pass the top of The Royal Pavilion Estate, the heart of Brighton & Hove’s cultural quarter. It consists of a royal palace and Regency garden, a museum and art gallery, and three performing art spaces. The palace – the Royal Pavilion – is an instantly recognisable symbol of the city and was built by the Prince Regent who later became King George IV. Between here and Brighton station is North Laine, a neighbourhood with a profusion of independent shops, cafés and bars.